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RE primary resources – Our new ‘religion and worldviews’ religious education curriculum celebrates similarities

Our new ‘religion and worldviews’ RE curriculum looks at what we all have in common, rather than focusing on differences, says Matthew Lane...

  • RE primary resources – Our new ‘religion and worldviews’ religious education curriculum celebrates similarities

Change on a fundamental scale is in the air for religious education and that means it’s the most wonderful time to be an RE subject lead.

In 2018, the Commission on Religious Education delivered its final report that recommended a new vision for the subject. Firstly, the report provided a completely new way of framing the subject as ‘religion and worldviews’ (see panel at end of article) rather than religious education.

The rationale for this change is very interesting – I recommend reading the Commission’s final report.

The second major change is the use of different ‘disciplines’ to study religions and worldviews. In response to these fundamental changes, many SACREs (the local bodies that set RE curriculums) have updated or released new locally agreed syllabuses.

The biggest change within my local syllabus here in Norfolk is the introduction of a disciplinary pedagogy that asks children to study RE using the skills (or ‘lenses’) of theology, philosophy and human and social sciences.

Theology is thinking about believing and asking questions that believers of a faith may ask, with children exploring questions from inside religions.

Philosophy, or the study of ideas, is about pondering “the nature of knowledge, existence and morality more broadly”, which means including ethical questions and debates.

The final lens – human and social sciences – explores the ‘lived experience’ of members of a religion and what happens when theology meets everyday life. As these names are quite the tongue twister, we call them ‘believing’, ‘thinking’ and ‘living’ in my school.

Norfolk schools were also given freedom to design their own units and courses of study. In preparation for looking at our current RE curriculum I first discussed it with the children.

One pupil said, “I like doing our stuff but it’s interesting to see their stuff and see how different people live.” Having heard their thoughts, I threw the old curriculum in the bin and started afresh.

‘Other people’s stuff’

The school where I work is a typical Norfolk village school. It’s over 90% white British and Christian or of Christian heritage. Some children’s parents, and even grandparents, were also pupils here.

I knew that I didn’t want our new curriculum to involve the children doing a unit of “their stuff” (Christianity) followed by an entirely different unit of “other peoples’ stuff” (any other religious or non-religious practice).

Our world is becoming more fractured. If children are to see the beauty and value of other people, religions and worldviews, they need the skills to appreciate them and, most importantly, ways of connecting with them.

This got me thinking about exploring: if you know where you’ve been, it gives you a good basis to explore the new.

So I decided to be bold: every unit of learning would start with Christianity. We would learn about what we already knew, or thought we knew, and then link outwards.

Finding links and connections between Christianity and other religions and worldviews would form the bedrock of our curriculum.

Key questions

This new curriculum would follow the Bible as its basic structure, with three half-terms exploring concepts rooted in the Old Testament, followed by three half-terms of New Testament content.

This proved to be very helpful as it dislodged Easter and Christmas from the times we celebrate them (there is no acknowledgement in the Bible when these events took place).

This structure was inspired by the Church of England Education Office’s brilliant Understanding Christianity project.

As we are a church school, at least 50% of our RE content should focus on Christianity. Therefore, the first three or four lessons of each half-termly unit have a Christian focus and usually contain theological study of the Bible.

This gives time to explore our ‘key question’ and reflect on how Christianity answers it. Having built a solid knowledge base in Christianity, learning then moves on to one or more other religions or non-religious traditions for comparison.

For instance, in autumn in Y6, children explore Genesis one and two pondering the philosophy key question, ‘Why was the Earth made?’.

Children recap the key events of these chapters and then debate and discuss how women are described in markedly different ways between chapter one and two (they were written at different times by different authors, then collated together at a much later date).

A lesson is spent looking at the scientific description of how the Earth was formed and what similarities this has to Genesis.

This is not an apologist attempt to explain Genesis, rather a time to discuss what real ‘events’ humans wrote into the Genesis story and why we think this coincidence could have occurred (the importance of water to life), to explore what makes no scientific sense (light is created before the sun) and what this tells us about the writers of Genesis and the time and the audience they wrote for.

It is a good time to discuss how correlation does not imply causation.

To conclude the unit, we spend two lessons exploring the events of the Hindu creation story and its expression of our universe as one in a string of many. Children quickly spot the beginning of the world in darkness and water and how a prime mover is needed to bring light and life into the world.

This is the most important part of the new curriculum: children begin by finding and celebrating what is the same and then question why they are the same. How can two religions from different sides of the planet have similar beliefs? How can two faiths that appear so different actually be quite similar?

Time and energy

Growing this new curriculum and pedagogy has taken time and lots of energy from the amazing staff at my school.

As we move further towards a ‘religion and worldviews’ curriculum, our emphasis will be on denominations and how, for instance, there is no single ‘Christian worldview’.

The aim is that children can see how worldviews ‘similar’ to their own can actually be very different, while the superficially ‘different’ can be very similar.

What exactly a religions and worldviews curriculum is has yet to be fully defined, with clarification from the RE Council expected next year.

Many teachers are also informing the definition; shaping the concept through experimentation and research. You can see what one group of teachers and researchers, the Reforming RE project, is accomplishing by visiting ReformingRE.wordpress.com.

What is a ‘worldview’?

“A worldview is a person’s way of understanding, experiencing and responding to the world. It can be described as a philosophy of or approach to life. This includes how a person understands the nature of reality and their own place in the world.

A person’s worldview is likely to influence and be influenced by their beliefs, values, behaviours, experiences, identities and commitments. It can be influenced by organised systems of thought and these can be religious (Christian, Hindu, etc) or non-religious (Humanism, Secularism) in nature.”

RE Council Final Report 2018

Free resources

Download Matthew’s new religious education curriculum, which focuses on finding links and connections between Christianity and other religions and worldviews.


Matthew Lane is the Religious Education lead at Hethersett CEVC Primary School. Find him at theteachinglane.co.uk and on Twitter at @MrMJLane.

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